I started writing this on Friday morning. Life interceded.
This was going to be about the punditry class and how it never can admit that it doesn’t know everything definitively. (There are a few good-natured exceptions, of course.)
But Saturday morning brought waves of outside perspective, reminding me to stop staring at the navel that is one specific perspective on this Oscar thing.
What I keep getting is… it’s all over for The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and their little award party.
If you have read me for more than the last few minutes, you know that I am often an angry respondent to the death knells of the industry. The cycle is familiar by now. Forces in the industry seek what they see as game-changing shifts that are really incremental changes to the bottom line. A new paradigm arrives. Changes are made to accodate the new paradigm while also incorporating the well-trod incremental ideas. The benefits of the changes are squeezed out of the paradigm shift until they are no longer benefits. The industry shifts back to the consumers desires that best accomodate the business desires and many trees are killed, but the forest remains.
America represents about 300 people on a planet of 7 billion. Since the start of the tech era, somewhere around the Clinton administration, our greatest trick to increase the wealth of our domestic industries has been internationalism. Success in America is still a road to great wealth. But the rest of the world can make us fucking rich. Oligarch rich.
The Academy actually positioned itself for this reality by mistake.
An organization that is not only domestically centered, but downright local, was challenged to respond to charges of racism and sexism in 2015. And initiative was started, but it quickly became clear that systematic racism in the industry would thwart the ability for The Academy to achieve anything close to its stated goals for greater racisal balance within the bubble that is this industry.
Perhaps this is why, initially, the virtue signaling crowd at The Academy, was so intent of eliminating white male members from the group, which would allow percentages to shift more aggressively without, in theory, expanding the organization as it has now expanded (to almost double where it was in 2015).
So very cleverly, The Academy expanded the effort to the rest of the world… where they were still unable to quite achieve the goals with transparency. If you accept that the U.S. population is around 13% Black, it is an uncomfortable fact that none of the A2020 years of massive expansion of Academy membership invitations included 13% Black people… not from America (the functional heart of The Academy) or the world.
The Academy did markedly better adding women.
And after years of pretending this is not what they were doing, the thousands of new international members were so clear to everyone in the award structure that The Academy started acknowledging that this is what they has done… never admitting the failure of the project in America… for Americans of color (immigrant, 1st generation, or here as long as Native Americans) in the industry.
So what does The Academy do with this?
Nothing, really. They changed “Foreign Film” to “International Film,” but did nothing else to become more inclusive of the, at least, full third of The Academy that now resided somewhere other than America. The same somewhat archaic foreign language rules apply to the rest of the world’s wannabe awards movies, although there have been some constructive changes to include more members in the process of processing the 90something international submissions each year.
But we are still in the bizarre position where Pedro Almodovar’s Parallel Mothers gets 2 nominations, but could not compete for Best International Picture.
At the same time, international voters seem to have asserted themselves on movies like Roma, Parasite, Minari, and this year’s Drive My Car, which was clearly also empowered by unanimity amongst the few major critics groups.
(A rarely discussed key question of CODA vs The Power of the Dog is, in part, whether the international community will vote for a remake of a hit French film that has not been released in America or lean instead towards international directing veteran superstar Jane Campion.)
But has The Academy made any real effort to become the award of world cinema? No. Expect some boost in New Zealand viewership (the show airs midday on Monday there) and maybe Japan this season, but why would France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, China, South Korea or even the U.K. be making time in their schedules for it this year… as opposed to the 15 minute cut-downs on YouTube the next day?
What is happening with The Academy here in America?
The next step for The Academy, which is now virtue signalling daily with such intensity that it is driving white liberals from feeling at home, is the Aperture program, based on the BFI Inclusion Standards.
BUT… putting aside that BFI is actually funding movies, which makes having an inclusion standard quite reasonable, there is this fact Only 2 categories in the BAFTA Awards require adherence to this standard. Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
Here at The Academy, the idea is for ALL films to meet this criteria. There are plenty of people talking about how the demand for detailing inclusion in the production and distribution of each film is in many ways, anti-inclusive… as in “tell us how many people of color, how many LGBTQ+ people, etc and name them so they can be listed.” Then there is the discussion of what qualifies as being “of color” (ironic, given the blurry use of term in analyzing the progress of The Academy membership) or what qualifies you a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
And remember… The Academy doesn’t fund movies.
Is this, amongst other issues, a very real threat to the future of this organization as one of singular cultural importance?
My third plank in this conversation is the new disregard by The Academy of theatrical release. Why do films have to qualify in theaters at all? It makes no sense. Either this is an important part of qualifying for Oscars or just let it go.
But I believe The Academy just letting it go leads not only to the end of Oscar being a special event, but to the end of theatrical itself.
It is undeniably stupid on a purely financial level for this industry to dump theatrical or marginalize it to, essentially, 25 movies a year. It is throwing away significant revenue that cannot be made up for. Yes, it also eliminates some big marketing spending. But this doesn’t work both ways. Theatrical marketing does add value to eventual streaming releases. Direct-to-Streaming does not necessarily add any additional value, much less revenue. It is the only in the failure of streamers to produce and program direct-to-stream content successfully that forces companies to us what should be theatrical movies to streaming premieres as desperate over-expensive fodder to fill the failure.
There are many reasons why Oscar is less interesting to the public now… no need to repeat them all. But giving up the unique proposition of the event - honoring movies we all experience in theaters first, as communities in the dark - is Academy suicide… no matter how much members now make from streamers.
If you give awards to, essentially, everything, then no award means anything.
Now… the big questions.
1. Will distributors go so far in starving theatrical that it will kill 2/3 or more of the 40,000+ movie screens in America and within a few years after, the world?
2. Will The Academy stop celebrating its own faux virtue to actually face the idea of making real changes to Oscar (this year’s changes being painful, stupid, and incremental)?
3. Will The Academy move Oscar into January or the first weeks of February to show some relationship to the pace in which people now live and celebrate things. The idea of the Super Bowl being played in March when the playoffs end in the 2nd weekend of January would be seen as insane. Why does Oscar continue to insist?
4. Does The Academy have the will to deconstruct the Oscar Industrial Complex (pretty sure I coined this phrase, but I could be wrong) and do everything it can to make the $500m annual hysteria back to a reasonable level of the embrace of quality movies and a modest marketing effort to, primarily, get people to see them… not to endlessly chase the narrative.
5. Will Oscar even get clarity on the reality… that they are in a symbotic relationship with the content they celebrate?
The current Oscar thinking on the top 6 is… CODA, Campion, Will Smith, Penelope Cruz, Troy Kotsur, and Ariana DeBose.
Maybe. Absolutely possible.
Will anyone (aside from the immediate families of these films) really care?
Until tomorrow night…
Facinating article David....get yourself at TV program!